A marathon debate on rewriting the rules of how Galway city council meetings are governed, ran for four and a half hours in City Hall on Monday evening.
The move came as a result of meetings being regularly abandoned and abusive behaviour becoming almost acceptable in the council chamber.
A narrow majority of councillors (eight against seven ) voted in favour of 23 changes to existing standing orders, although many of the changes were criticised as being illegal. The lengthy debate addressed a number of articles in the 27 page document, however the most contentious was the proposal to dock councillors’ pay for abusive behaviour.
Standing order 42 previously gave the chair power to adjourn any meeting where there was disorderly conduct but the new standing order will not just force councillors to become more responsible for their actions, but will hit their pay packets.
The new addition states: “In the event of the chair making such an order of adjournment, then, and in that event all remuneration, privileges, and services enjoyed by the member against whom the resolution has been made under standing order 40 shall be suspended forthwith and shall not be reinstated until such time as said member purges his or her contempt to the council.”
Although councillors were in favour of adopting the change it was highlighted that the decision was beyond the control of the council and was possibly illegal.
Fine Gael councillor Hildegarde Naughton said: “We could end up in the High Court with this, the 2001 local Government Act superseded this.” Labour councillor, Colette Connolly, suggested the decision was like “making a child responsible for the behaviour of another child”.
Her colleague, Labour councillor Tom Costello, also received a letter from a barrister relating to the proposed changes to standing orders, highlighting a long list of flaws in the proposed changes and stating the motion was “dubious”
Fine Gael councillor Pádraig Conneely said: “We’ve spent five hours on this motion that concerns Pádraig Conneely and no one else.”
However Independent councillor Declan McDonnell supported the move saying “meetings have been abandoned and guests have been insulted.”
However he suggested that pre-empting the need for legal advice would only postpone the debate. He said that while other councillors had already received legal advice he suggested the motion only be carried pending clearance from a legal source.
Councillors voted in favour of making a considerable number of changes to the standing orders in the hope that they will result in meetings running more smoothly, all changes will now be sent for legal review to ensure that they are compliant.